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woman: i have been commissioned by the new york city department of cultural affairs and the sanitation department to be the artist of the largest municipal landfill on this planet -- a rather daunting challenge. slowly but surely, i realized that she was doing the art for the next century. that she was just way ahead of everybody and that she was the official artist in residence
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at the department of sanitation of the city of new york. and i was just baffled by this, but i couldn't get it out of my mind. hey, david, what's that? what's that over there? ukeles: working in collaboration with sanitation engineers, ecologists, and planners, i will help design what this site will become. i don't want to pretend this is solid ground. this is not solid ground. this is a social sculpture that we all made. these mounds are here because i threw out my garbage in the bronx, and you threw out your garbage in brooklyn, and maybe we made a little bit too much garbage altogether, and look what we did here. we made these mounds.
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the landfill is scheduled to cease accepting waste in five years. how can we heal this site and return it to the community? the charge to the artist is, how can we do this at the highest level of creativity in the way that is the most responsive to the public? man: somehow we got to meet or hear about mierle and brought her on as the department's artist in residence. and many of us, like myself, that spent a long time, a career out in the street picking up garbage and sweeping streets, we started thinking, "why do we need an artist?" "what we really need is a good mechanic, or somebody that can build trucks." it was the last person we thought we needed. but as i got to know her and the department got to know her, we appreciated bringing an artist into the department.
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she's done an awful lot for us. it's like a ballet sort of, you know? he dumps, and then these two guys crisscross each other. this guy will start pushing it down, and you'll see the other machine works from the bottom. ukeles: my work has a lot to do with walking. just plain walking through a place has a lot of meaning for me. i look back on my work, and you can see me sort of walking through systems or cities, towns. i've already had the opportunity to create a public artwork on a landfill at danehy park in cambridge, massachusetts. the landfill was closed in 1972,
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healed, and then reopened 20 years later as a park. this used to be a terrible, smelly dump. now, it's reborn. i created a piece called "turnaround surround" for the park that consists of a half-mile long, handicap access path that encircles the central mound. i used glassphalt, a mix of asphalt and recyclable glass bits that catch and reflect the light. it's symbolic of the public's power to turn things around, to bring life back to a place of decay. feldman: underlying all of this is her understanding of the history of art. many artists have made beautiful artworks dealing with materials that would be discarded. she starts with the lowest base level, our refuse,
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and builds beautiful artworks from that, and that's absolutely essential. it's been going on for centuries, and she just steps in and does it exactly where it matters most. ukeles: my work is about transformations. my artwork grows out of real systems, out of the place itself. but beyond revealing the system and the space, my work reimagines them. then, it's not only the place itself that changes, it's also how we see the place that changes. so, it's us that changes, our attitudes about the land and how we use it. doherty: fresh kills landfill -- the total acreage is about 3,000 acres. it's four landfills in one. there's four mounds out there.
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two of them have been closed within the last year, year and a half. ukeles: earth mounds. these are mounds. there's an entire tradition from all over history of earth mounds, sacred earth sites. doherty: we unload about 109 barges a week that come from eight marine transfer stations positioned around the city. that's about 90% of the waste that ends up at fresh kills through the barge system. ukeles: across the street from the landfill is the staten island mall, a temple of consumerism where people come to satisfy their desires. most products are used up and thrown out within two months. doherty: right now, we handle 13,000 tons a day.
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here's the shopping center where we're trained -- buy, buy, buy -- and across the street we have this growing mound of the results of throw out, throw out, throw out. i think at the peak, we were receiving 27,000 tons a day out there. explain to me, like, what's the process here? the process is that they're bringing the trucks up... so when they squish out all the oxygen, the methanogens go to work? the microorganism will produce a lot of methane.
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i want to ask you, what's your sort of biggest vision of the landfill? because i pitch my artistic vision to your vision. see the thing with the big picture, it's dynamic, okay? we give it some shape and some plan, but there are new constraints that are getting imposed on us over the years... ukeles: i think the role of the artist is to be as true to your own feelings and voice that you can possibly be, wherever that takes you. what's this here? this is the bio-protection layer. what material is that? this is soil. but not as refined as this soil up here, right? well, the specifications for each soil type is slightly different. this is a little bit clearer. so, what i was looking at was the black geo-membranes, and then, the pipe will sit on top of that?
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yes, and then it will be covered. and this is 440? yeah. you came in this way. this is victory... people say to me, "where are your drawings?" and i'm saying that the drawings are being done by the engineers. i'm learning from their drawings. right now, i'm in phase one of my artistic process of research and reconnaissance. i need to understand everything about the landfill. the rock crushing plant transforms construction and demolition debris and old roads back into dirt. composting supplies some of the final cover for the fill.
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gas heads release methane gas that will eventually be capped as an energy source. there's the leachate containment and treatment plant. gleason: leachates, water that percolates through the garbage, gets into the ground, and they get concerned. "is this polluted water?" it gets out to the waterways. it can get into the groundwater, and that's a problem. we're putting a system around the landfill to contain it, putting in drains to collect it, and then we'll treat it, then discharge it safely into the waterways. the geo-textile cover is put over the clay and earth cap.
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then finally, there's a cover of grasses, part of an ecological restoration that includes many progressive experimental projects. how did i get onto this path that led me to sitting in an office at "landfill engineering and recycling" headquarters? this is going to sound strange, but it happened when i had a baby. as a mother, i became a maintenance worker. i had a degree in international relations. another degree in art. and as i'm doing these repetitive tasks taking care of the baby, all of a sudden i had an honest-to-god revelation. if i'm the artist, and i can call anything art, i call that art. and in this sort of magical moment, i said, "that's it. maintenance is art," and i wrote this manifesto.
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i did many performance artworks in public where i would assume the persona of the maintenance worker. i did what the maintenance people do. only because i'm the artist, when i did it, it became art. i washed the entire front entrance of the museum, which was huge. i washed a street in soho in front of the gallery. it took me five hours. i had a lot of rags. i was washing. it was so dirty that it was actually shredding my rags right in front of me, and i was in trouble. a superintendent of a building across the street arrived with an armful of rags. what he was saying was,
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"whatever this is, you need help. here it is." can i shake your hand? thank you. thank you. doherty: i remember the first association with her is when she did "touch sanitation," where she went around and literally shook hands with every employee in the department. she was out at 6:00 a.m. roll calls in the morning, all over the city. and the recognition she got for the people in the department, i think that was important for the men and women in sanitation to see that their work was looked at from a different point of view, that it was looked at from an artist's perspective. and i think something that pretty much upgraded the department quite a bit. i have done, i think, about five or six "work ballets." the reason i say "work ballet" is that there's the contradiction that i'm always trying to vibrate,
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or bring the vibration between sort of one thing that looks this way with its opposite. it's like freedom and work, or maintenance and art. work. ballet. you usually think of these things as being separate from each other. so what i want to do is, like, jam them together, and say, "can you have -- can work be art?" in 1993, i was asked to explore the relevance of contemporary art for an ancient town struggling to survive -- givors, france. i worked with city workers, as well as 100 kids, to create a parade down national route 86 and a ballet mechanique on the banks of the rhone river.
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twenty-seven city vehicles performed movements, such as "snake" and "spider," choreographed by the drivers and me. feldman: that's what artists do. they take the commonplace, and they transform them into the miraculous. so a ballet makes every bit of sense. ukeles: gradually, a 100-ton diamond of recycled cobalt blue glass from the local glass factory was revealed. the piece was called "re-spect for givors" with a hyphen after the "re" of "respect" to look again. this one-hour performance showed us that there is power in each of us to transform the world.
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"flow city" is a work in progress first conceived in 1983. it's kind of like the front door to the fresh kills landfill. it's located at the marine transfer station at 59th street and the hudson river. the flow of the hudson river and the flow of garbage -- it's a giant system of circulation that's all in flux. my function as an artist, as artists have always done,
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is just to set up some kind of frame in which it's easy to look at something. now, i want people to see this. really i want them to see it because it's theirs. it's not my material. everybody's in on this. "flow city" is a proposal for a public art environment to enable people to enter into an operating waste disposal facility. this is the passage ramp of "flow city,"
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and what you're looking at is the skeleton, the sub-structure that will go away and be covered with a running spiral of recyclable materials. these materials are in flux. they've lost their identity as garbage, and they are being transformed already as the walls, floor, and ceiling of the ramp into something new. the glass bridge is another kind of philoshical room. the bridge compresses all the juxtapositions that make the piece. on one side, you see the more or less permanent city -- the empire state building, the world trade center.
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on the other, the city in flux. and then, the third component is called "media flow wall." it's a window to the connections between the landfill in staten island to mid-town manhattan. and on that wall, you can see the whole flow, the whole process, and recognize that you're part of it.
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man: let it down, man. my work is not just about a flow of waste. it's about the flow of life. the constant flow, like the hudson itself, with all the multiple and contradictory directions of its currents, flowing and cleansing the whole city, day and night, constantly. [ horn blows ]
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feldman: she's making from our discarded refuse something that teaches us something about ourselves -- who we are, where we are.
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she's making the portrait of our time. she's saying all the things we've discarded come back with a new life. and that's exactly what we're going to have to do if the planet is going to survive. so she's out there doing the work that no one would have thought of for years, she's been doing for many, many years. ukeles: from the tops of the four mounds, we'll be able to see our urban panorama -- what made us, and what we can make. can the site keep and tell its history as a social sculpture we have all made together? can the public actually coexist with it without damaging it anew? can this place be a good neighbor? can i keep my individual voice as an artist in all this? or, by opening out my voice, can i invent a different kind of creativity?

Mosaic World News
LINKTV November 19, 2012 7:30pm-7:55pm PST

News/Business. English news reports from Middle Eastern broadcasters. (CC)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Us 7, The City 3, Brooklyn 1, New York City 1, Danehy Park 1, Cambridge 1, Feldman 1, Annenberg Media 1, New York 1, Massachusetts 1, Bronx 1, Leachates 1, Soho 1, Givors 1, France 1, Skeleton 1, Mid-town Manhattan 1, Whole City 1, Glassphalt 1
Network LINKTV
Duration 00:25:00
Rating PG-13;V
Scanned in San Francisco, CA, USA
Source Comcast Cable
Tuner Channel 89 (615 MHz)
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 544
Pixel height 480
Sponsor Internet Archive
Audio/Visual sound, color

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on 11/20/2012